News of the Week
For Immediate Release: JUNE 13, 2012
NWTF and Wildlife Department to continue conservation partnership
The National Wild Turkey Federation has been a strong supporter of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for decades, and the two recently sealed plans to continue their partnership into the future.
At its June meeting, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission entered into a memorandum of agreement with the NWTF to continue partnering in conservation efforts in the state. While longtime agreements that have been in place between the two have focused on restoring and enhancing turkey populations and habitat, the two are looking toward a future of generating interest among Oklahomans in the outdoors and getting people into the woods to enjoy wildlife and engage in conservation.
According to Robert Abernethy, NWTF vice-president of agency programs, the NWTF signed a similar memorandum of agreement with the Wildlife Department in 1988 that focused primarily on goals to expand turkey populations and "make sure that every available acre of turkey habitat in Oklahoma has turkeys."
"Over the last 20 years the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Turkey Federation - working together in partnership - have achieved that goal," Abernethy said.
He went on to describe the evolution of the NTWF's involvement in conservation over the years as it seeks to involve people in the outdoors.
"The old agreement was primarily dealing with turkeys," Abernethy said. "The new agreement is dealing with our women's program. It's dealing with our Wheeling' Program where we get wounded warriors - we get disabled veterans, we get people with disabilities - out in the woods, and we tell them that 'you can hunt again.'"
The NWTF also operates youth programs, conservation scholarships and a range of other efforts to introduce and keep people involved in the outdoors and conservation.
The NWTF is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of the wild turkey and other wildlife, and its Oklahoma chapters have played an important role in the state. With more than 50 Oklahoma chapters, the NWTF has spent over $1 million in Oklahoma in recent decades on things like wildlife habitat enhancements, land purchases, education, outreach and more within the state.
"We have those partners that we rely heavily on, and the NWTF steps up to the plate all the time," said Alan Peoples, chief of Wildlife for the Wildlife Department.
Other partners to the Department such as the Oklahoma Bowhunting Council play important roles in conserving wildlife and promoting the outdoors. Along with the NWTF, representatives from the Bowhunting Council attended the June meeting and presented the Commission with a donation of $500.
The donation will be used for the Department's Operation Game Thief program, which allows the public to send anonymous tips and reports of game law violations in Oklahoma.
"The Oklahoma Bowhunting Council has been a strong partner in our archery program for years, and they've helped make it what it is today," said Robert Fleenor, law enforcement chief for the Wildlife Department.
In other business, the Commission heard a presentation on the current state of Oklahoma's whitetail deer management program.
According to Alan Peoples, recent figures indicate that Oklahoma attracts an estimated 92,406 archery hunters, 94,905 muzzleloader hunters, and about 203,915 modern firearms hunters every year.
"We've made the statement that on opening day of gun season, we'll have more people in the woods than a home football game at OU, OSU or Tulsa combined," Peoples said. "Deer hunting is a pretty big deal for us in Oklahoma."
At the start of statehood, market and subsistence hunting had driven Oklahoma's deer numbers down to an estimated population of fewer than 500. Today hunters regularly harvest close to or in excess of 100,000 deer annually during fall hunting seasons.
Jerry Shaw, wildlife programs supervisor for the Wildlife Department, presented the Commission with a state history of the progression of deer management since that time leading up to the thriving deer population of today. The decades since statehood have been marked with recovery efforts, trap and transplant programs, increased hunting opportunities, antlerless harvest management and overall booming success for whitetail populations, habitat and hunters.
In recent years the Department has helped improve herd dynamics by increasing antlerless deer harvest and also by expanding buck hunting opportunities to encourage hunters to be more selective. This included expanding the deer gun season in 2003 to allow hunters more time to be selective and reducing annual antlered deer limits from three to two in 2007.
"As I look around and I try to take count and stock of what we've done, I would say we have been very successful," Shaw said. "Our total deer harvests are level or they're showing a stable to increasing trend. Our antlerless harvests are at record highs. In 2009 we set our antlerless harvest record with over 50,000 antlerless deer tagged. Over the past five years we've averaged 43 percent does in our harvest - that's keeping our population from expanding and potentially damaging the habitat. And at the same time that our harvests are increasing, our buck harvest is remaining stable. We're not taking more bucks - we're just taking a little bit better quality deer. If you look at individual seasons, our success rates for archery, muzzleloader and rifle season are all improving. We have more liberal season dates than ever before. If you're a deer hunter in Oklahoma, this is the time you want to be around. We've got the longest seasons we've ever had. We've got the highest bag limits. It's a great time to be a deer hunter."
Shaw also said the percentage of yearling bucks harvested has decreased in recent decades and bigger deer are being harvested. There have been seven new Cy Curtis Awards records set in the past 16 years. The Department's Cy Curtis Awards program recognizes big deer that have been harvested in Oklahoma and the hunters who have taken them.
Additionally, recent game harvest surveys conducted by the Department indicate that the majority of Oklahoma hunters have held steady opinions over time about deer hunting.
"On average, over 60 percent of our hunting population say in order for them to consider it a successful deer hunting experience, they want to see many deer of both sexes," Shaw said.
In 2010, the Department used its game harvest survey to ask 1,037 hunters who had hunted deer in 2010 how they think Oklahoma's deer herd should be managed.
"Fifty-four percent said 'for maximum deer hunting opportunity,'" Shaw said.
And while Oklahoma has been successful in helping the majority of Oklahoma deer hunters realize what they consider a successful deer hunting experience, Shaw said that the hunters who have preferences toward trophy hunting have a way to achieve their goals as well.
"For the minority of hunters that wish to manage for trophy bucks, we have a cooperative program designed to help them meet that goal."
That program is the Deer Management Assistance Program, or "DMAP," which helps cooperative groups of hunters and landowners manage for individualized goals on private lands while still allowing for statewide regulations that benefit the majority of the hunters looking for maximum hunting opportunity.
Shaw pointed out future management opportunities such as increasing youth participation and additional antlerless hunting opportunity. He also referenced the Department's online e-check system as a way to allow for real time analysis of deer season data, to save hunters gas money and to save operating costs for the Wildlife Department.
The following is a listing of other business conducted by the Commission at its June meeting:
- New Commission officers were elected. Beginning in July, the new Commission chairman will be District 1 Commission M. David Riggs; the vice-chairman will be District 6 Commissioner John P. Zelbst; and the secretary will be District 8 Commissioner John. D. Groendyke.
- Richard Hatcher, director of the Wildlife Department, recognized Gary Keller, wildlife technician, for 30 years of service to the Department, and Julia Matlock, assistant hatchery manager, for 25 years.
- The Department's fiscal year 2013 annual budget was approved. The $50 million budget includes a reduction of about $3 million dollars from last year. Some of the highlights in the new budget includes expenses for bobwhite quail and lesser prairie chicken conservation, hatchery and wetland renovations and land acquisition.
- An engagement letter from Finley & Cook, PLLC to perform the Department's annual financial audit was approved as well as a letter of agreement for retirement actuarial services from Buck Consultants.
- Amendments to the Department's defined benefit retirement plan and defined contribution retirement plan as required for IRS qualification were approved, as well as amendments to investment guidelines for the trust funds.
- Modifications to agency policy regarding the hiring process and leave also were adopted.
The Wildlife Conservation Commission is the eight-member governing board of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The Wildlife Commission establishes state hunting and fishing regulations, sets policy for the Wildlife Department and indirectly oversees all state fish and wildlife conservation activities. Commission members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
The next scheduled Commission meeting is set for 9 a.m. Aug. 6, at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters (auditorium), located at the southwest corner of 18th and North Lincoln, Oklahoma City.